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I still don't know why you voted for him (response to op-ed)

Dear Chicago Tribune,

Help me understand why this was a publishable op-ed. I can't believe the amount of miscounsel that was given in fewer than 500 words. At least I got a new manifesto out of my repeated attempts to process it.

“Commentary: I am a deplorable, and I'm happy I voted for Trump,” by Jeff Bust, Chicago Tribune, Feb. 3, 2017.

To the writer:

I don’t get tired of sharing ideas about values. Clearly some values are still relevant to you, too, because you are writing op-eds about them. I'm sorry you are "weary" almost before you've picked up the pen. If you continue to insist that your subject matter isn't important, you can stop writing and I'll stop reading.

When I vote, my motivation is not to privately feel good about my vote. My motivation is to point toward policies that I think will actually help others. When others protest the policies I like, I don’t see that as an attempt to make me feel bad about my vote. Protests usually aim to fix the problems we have right now with our government and prevent bad policy. Even if some protesters do want to shame me, and if they succeed, it doesn’t matter very much, since my goal is not to feel good about a vote I’ve already cast but rather to find new ways to help people and continue making the country a good place to live. If I decide I've made a political mistake, I can move on and move forward. It isn't essential for me to feel good about a past vote, and I'm not under the illusion that ossifying smugness for its own sake would help me or anyone else in the event that my political beliefs were criticized.

It isn't clear to me why you voted for someone you say you don't like, why you are happy at having done so, and how this specific, peculiar happiness helps you or anyone else. You say you wanted a president who does something. All presidents do something. You could have voted for a candidate you liked. If you would like to see a different kind of candidate, you can say what that person would be like.

Your voice has always counted. It counts even when you don’t win. You are not entitled to get your way all the time. You are still significant when someone else gets their way. It doesn’t especially impress me that you personally prefer to express your political opinion without costumes or signs; if you were more of an oddball, your beliefs would still matter the same amount to me.

You are the only one who sees the way things really are? How did you arrive at that vision?

I don’t think we need to balance the budget before we engage in debate about values. I think we need values to determine how to balance the budget. I think the values need to be "living": adjustable and debatable. We can, at the same time, philosophize and pay our bills; indeed, we must. Neither philosophy nor the budget is ever completed. Anything we put off until these magna opera are completed will never see daylight in our lifetimes.

Why the gratuitous adjective "dorm-room" before "debates on philosophy and injustice"? Why "empty" before "values-centered debates"? If philosophy were really so juvenile and empty, why would you want to engage in it ever, even as a secondary interest on that far-off day when the budget is finally balanced?

Very few are idlers by ideology; most value the concept of work. If you perceive that others find fault with you for having a job, you might want to examine where that perception is coming from.

Very few are ascetics; most value some degree of comfort. If you perceive that others find fault with you for seeking comfort, you might want to examine if they really object to what they see as excess, especially at others’ expense.

Very few lecture others about insensitivity for no reason. If people routinely tell you how insensitive you are, maybe there’s something to be learned there.

Nearly everyone works in some capacity, inside or outside the home, and even those who don’t work still worry about who will pay for what needs to be done. It is important to think about who foots the bill, yet I am skeptical that you really only consent to activities that you can pay for all by yourself. Many expenses are collective; someone paid for the road on which you walk, bike, or drive. The fact that we have government debt for you to complain about suggests that something got bought that you did not pay for. And what if you could no longer work or if you could no longer earn or save at your current level? How would you make decisions then? How would you value yourself? How would you expect others to value you?

For similar reasons, one should less readily judge immigrants (or anyone) according to their economic contributions. First, why should anyone base the welcoming and acceptance of any other human being in any significant measure according to whether they can work and pay taxes? Some people are disabled. Some people contribute by methods that do not involve money — they are caregivers or artists or simply fine people who happen not to have jobs. Second, I thought you lived your life based on "what I can pay for," so why do you care if immigrants make economic contributions? To whom should they contribute except themselves? Is it the case that you want them to contribute to you, but you don't want to contribute to them? Third, if you expect someone to make significant material contributions to the country, are you prepared to grant them the right to vote?

You suggest that government overspending is worse than all other value failures combined: arrogance, carelessness, overcompetition, insensitivity. I disagree. Spending money is not the worst evil. Money exists to be spent. It is instrumentally useful in the service of values. If there are credible proposals to help remedy the consequences of racism past and present and if those proposals require spending some money, surely this is one of the best uses of money one can dream up.

You say that no one has a right to send a financial bill to future generations, but you suggest it's perfectly all right to leave them with a climate change problem, due to your "practical sense of priority." Certain facts and values can present an argument that future generations will need a planet that is livable for humans and other forms of life more than they will need money. If the planet's natural environment is disregulated, money can't easily fix the issue. Global warming needs to be a high priority for practical reasons. If others criticize you for deprioritizing it, maybe it’s not for the abstract reason that they see you as putting practicality or frugality over ideals but because they think you have your facts wrong about the relevance of climate change.

And on a practical level, we do have to bill future generations for something, because that is the way financing works in the actual world right now. We bill the future. We don't have its consent. We can pay off some the debt that previous generations left us with and we can be judicious about the causes for which we want to bill the future, but charging nothing whatsoever is probably not a realistic option. Also, because future generations by definition cannot weigh in yet, we don't know for a fact whether they would consent to or even prefer us to rack up some bills on their behalf. They might want us to pay (or force them to pay) to prevent another kind of problem for them. They don't exist yet so we can't ask them. We may not have the right to make choices that affect others now and in the future, but we are nonetheless inescapably faced with that reality and those decisions.

No one can erase or redo history. No one can give a personal mea culpa for something that happened before they were born. To be anti-racist is not to attempt those things that are impossible on principle. It is simply to care about people today, to acknowledge history as needed, and to try to move forward together, making the most of the resources we have.

It is not obvious that your taxes are used to "make...speeches and buy votes." You have to build a case for that and explain what you mean. Neither is it clear whether you object to all government-funded healthcare, since you say that you support abortion rights and that you merely oppose the idea that you would have to pay for anyone's abortion. Presumably, you also oppose the idea that you would have to pay for anyone else's child and that child's healthcare for years to come, since money, not anti-abortion principle, is the driver here.

It is not obvious why being an “intellectual," an “organizer," or a philosopher (“professional value arbitrator”) is a bad thing. All of these skills are useful for writing coherent op-eds. "Tree huggers"—literally, environmentalists who protest in trees—have never run the show in Washington and you have nothing to fear from them at this time.

I didn't call you deplorable. You said "I am deplorable."

Thank you for explaining what your vote meant to you.


An update: Here's one explanation of why the Republican Party promoted Trump.

Angie Maxwell wrote in the Washington Post on July 26, 2019 that, during the last four decades of the 20th century, "Republicans fine-tuned their pitch and won the allegiance of Southern whites (and their sympathizers nationwide) by remaking their party in the Southern white image." However, after Bill Clinton's two-term presidency,

...the GOP recognized that it needed a new appeal, one that portrayed Democrats as a threat to the brand of Christian values Republicans had been championing for two decades. This time the party worked to reframe its positions on a host of domestic issues, ranging from health care to foreign policy, into matters of religious belief. By making the full spectrum of political debates about fundamental values, Republicans forged an unbreakable bond with Southern white evangelical voters, who went from social conservatives to all-out Republicans by the 2000s.

* * *

Understanding the full range of the GOP’s efforts in the South since Nixon clears up any confusion as to how Trump, a man whose personal life seems to violate every moral precept avowed by most Southern white conservatives, secured their unyielding allegiance. Trump has wielded the GOP’s Southern playbook with precision: defending Confederate monuments, eulogizing Schlafly at her funeral and even hiring Reagan’s Southern campaign manager, Paul Manafort. Trump, in many ways, is no anomaly. He is the very culmination of the GOP’s long Southern strategy."

It wasn't just because they were worried about being poor (and merely happened to be white). This, from Issac J. Bailey, Why Didn't We Riot?: A Black Man in Trumpland (New York: Other Press, 2020):

Imagine that black people were the main reason Farrakhan had become president of the United States. Now imagine how the (mostly white) mainstream would have explained such a result. They would not have made excuses for black voters. They would not have said it was reasonable for black voters to have put an anti-Semite in charge of laws that would affect Jewish Americans because of the “economic angst” black people have felt forever in this country. They would not have told Jews to empathize more with the black voters who elevated open, brazen anti-Semitism into the most powerful office in the world. ... I cannot imagine voting for a man like Farrakhan, then demanding that my Jewish friends and neighbors understand my choice. I’d be embarrassed. I’d feel like a fraud...

He also wrote:

In one instance, even when a politician literally spoke fondly of the term white supremacy, some journalists had a hard time labeling the comments as white supremacist. That was particularly odd, given Representative [Steve] King’s disturbing racial history, making it less likely it was just a slip of the tongue. In another, journalists could not bring themselves to grapple with the reality of white supremacy even as a large number of white people tried to make one of the most well-known white supremacists in U.S. history a senator three and a half decades after the Civil Rights Act became law. No wonder the journalistic default was “economic angst” even as Trump rose to national political prominence primarily because of his advocacy for a bigoted birtherism conspiracy theory.

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